Monday, October 31, 2011

Public works follies redux: anti-sustainability fee schemes

Irrigation dripperImage via Wikipedia  So, the city water department (the folks who insist on printing and sending paper bills through the US Mail to people who pay online and who don't want a paper bill at all) has decided that those among us who put in an underground irrigation system -- and who already must pay $40 a year extra to have our backflow prevention devices tested -- should also pay a special $15 a year charge to the city just to pay for paper-pushing by the bureaucrats who "administer" the program.

  We put in an underground irrigation system at LOVESalem HQ so we could install timed drip irrigation throughout our many gardens.  We paid extra -- quite a bit extra, actually-- for a high-quality, high-end, backflow preventer with redundancy, though we could have used a cheaper, less-reliable one, and still met the state requirements.  But we know that backflow prevention is important.  (Backflow prevention is about avoiding contaminants getting sucked into city water pipes if the system pressure dips, such as when fighting fires.)

  Drip uses a tiny fraction of the water of conventional sprinkler irrigation, reducing the demand for water substantially just when demand is most likely to strain the city's water supply system.  Instead of charging more, a city actually interested in promoting sustainability would waive the backflow prevention test fee for anyone who uses drip rather than broadcasting water into the air.  Or add the annual testing charge into rates for everyone, since everyone who gets water from the system benefits from the testing.

  The notice letter says that the $15 cost of pushing the paper in the backflow prevention program "were included in your utility rates" but "will now be charged on your utility bill on a prorated monthly basis."  Great -- so instead of figuring out how to reward or reduce the blow for those of us who are helping reduce the strain on the system in the drought months, the city has decided that we should pay extra on top of the extra we already pay for a public health measure that benefits everyone. 

  And they no doubt justified this brainwave by saying that those of us who have a backflow preventer should pay for the testing, not those households that don't.  Sounds right at first glance -- except that what it does is create is a fee system that gets the incentives wrong.  It hits people with an additional charge for doing what's right (protecting the health of the system) instead of raising rates generally, which tends to reward those who do what's right (such as use drip) and discourage doing what's wrong (using water wastefully).
Enhanced by Zemanta